Alexander Young Jackson, painter, writer (b at Montréal 3 Oct 1882; d at Kleinburg, Ont 5 Apr 1974). As a leading member of the Group of Seven, Jackson helped to remake the visual image of Canada; as a sparkling storyteller, he ensured the Group's notoriety.
Alexander Young Jackson, painter, writer (b at Montréal 3 Oct 1882; d at Kleinburg, Ont 5 Apr 1974). As a leading member of the Group of Seven, Jackson helped to remake the visual image of Canada; as a sparkling storyteller, he ensured the Group's notoriety. His early art training was partly on the job (he worked at various lithography firms in Montréal 1895-1906 and Chicago 1906-07) and partly at night schools, including the Conseil des arts et manufactures in Montréal 1896-99 under Edmond Dyonnet. Anxious to become a painter rather than a commercial artist, Jackson saved assiduously and in September 1907 enrolled in the Académie Julian, in Paris, under Jean-Paul Laurens. He stayed in Europe until December 1909, studying, travelling and sketching.
Soon after his return to Montréal, Jackson painted Edge of the Maple Wood, a canvas that brought him in contact with his future friends in the Toronto-based Group of Seven. Fed up with advertising work and with Montréal's indifference to his painting, Jackson moved to Toronto in the fall of 1913. Soon he was sharing his studio with a shy, uncertain painter, Tom Thomson. The 2 quickly became firm friends, to their mutual advantage: Jackson taught Thomson aspects of technique, especially colour, while Thomson taught Jackson about the Canadian wilderness. Anxious to experience Thomson's north country, Jackson went up to Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in February 1914. Here he found not only excellent painting country but also an image of Canada. After a trip to the Rockies, he was back in the park that fall with Thomson, Arthur Lismer and Fred Varley, and painted The Red Maple, a sketch in which art-nouveau composition is balanced by bold coloration.
In 1915 Jackson enlisted in the army and was sent to Europe. Two years later he was appointed an artist with the Canadian War Records and was immediately required to paint a portrait, despite his lack of experience with such themes. His subsequent works were more in keeping with his preference for landscape. Back in Canada in 1918, Jackson continued his perambulations, a tradition he maintained all his life. He spent the summer of 1919 painting in Georgian Bay, and in September joined Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald and Franz Johnston in a boxcar trip into Algoma. These and subsequent expeditions provided the material for the first Group of Seven exhibition held in Toronto in May 1920. Jackson's active participation in 7 other Group exhibitions and in many contemporary shows, including the controversial British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, Eng, 1924, ensured that his images of a rolling, unpopulated land became indelibly imprinted on the Canadian consciousness.
All his life Jackson remained a leading proponent of the Group's land-based nationalism. Once his painting style was established it shifted only to accommodate newly explored territory.
Never abandoning his interest in landscape, he painted Canada's most distinct and identifiable climates, especially favouring winter, and sought remote regions, including the Arctic, which he visited in 1927 and 1930. But he frequently returned to the gentler regions of his youth, including Québec and Georgian Bay. In Québec in 1926, he painted Barns, a canvas that exemplifies his use of simple, curvacious forms and temperate colour to present a powerful, enduring image. Jackson was also one of the Group's most effective propagandists. In numerous articles and in his engaging autobiography, A Painter's Country (new ed 1976), all written in appealingly colloquial language, Jackson gently presses home his nationalistic vision.